Tuesday, 27 April 2010

York's hidden gems

Mulberry bags seem to be taking over the world. At the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this month, I couldn't get over the number of women carrying one: it was like being at a Mulberry bag convention. And they appeal to all ages: in Newcastle, a city notorious for its well-heeled students, it's extraordinary how many 20-year-olds carry their files into university in an oak Bayswater or a Mitzy Hobo, which rings in at a cool £450.

It's clear that Mulberry's designers have really sussed the market, particularly over the last eight years. The leather wears wonderfully well, and that's (partly) what you're paying for. If you're in the market for an investment, and would rather track down something other than the current season's rash of leopard-print Alexa bags in lurid colours – which, let's face it, aren't for everyone – it's worth hunting out one of York's best hidden treasures: the Mulberry factory shop (23/25 Swinegate, 01904 611055). It stocks a wide range of past-season stock, slight seconds and samples all at large discounts, as well as pieces from the current collection. Many of the styles are no longer available from the main Mulberry stores or website. On my last visit, I found some of the best buys in the men's section, including a huge messenger bag in black or Mulberry's distinctive brown oak down from £595 to £178, and a chocolate tote at £293 down from £595. A grey messenger bag was down from £595 to £178. Still not cheap, then, but they will last a lifetime; the luggage and holdalls are especially good investments. There are also wallets, clothes, personal organisers, scarves and more....

Just round the corner, treat yourself to one of the UK's finest vintage stores, Priestley's (11 Grape Lane, 01904 631565). I'm a bit biased, as I was at school in York and we all spent hours rummaging there on Saturdays, buying old men's coats, military badges (like the ones on Balmain's jackets this season) and pinstriped suits, hoping they would lend us a touch of individuality (rather than merely a whiff of mothballs). The look, in retrospect, was more scruffy old man than Balmain, but then, that's the beauty of being 17; it seemed to suit Saturday afternoons in the Wimpey, stubbing out Marlboros on polystyrene cups.... Priestley's is a bright and beautiful shop, with a birdcage, hats, vintage furs and vintage suitcases around the place (and certainly no mothballs). Owner Heidi is wonderfully enthusiastic and will help you pick out the best stuff, whether it's a Burberry mac or a dusty-blue prom dress. I loved this 1950s black silk opera coat (£150), with Marni-esque three-quarter-length sleeves and a great swing to the back (see photo, above right). Priestley's have also just put a load of their best clothes online at www.coggles.com, the website for Sarah Coggles, York's best designer boutique.

Sarah Coggles' website's excellent, with a dangerous number of appealing labels from Paul & Joe and PPQ to Acne. I hadn't seen this Scandanavian label before, Best Behavior, that does this whole 'laidback luxe' look perfectly, with jersey harem trousers, jumpsuits and T-shirt dresses. This linen dress by APC, below, also caught my eye for spring, and a winningly simple silk crepe de chine dress by Elizabeth Lau (£185).

A new vintage shop, The House of Avalon, is opening in York this weekend (High Petergate, near the Minster). I'm going to check it out next weekend with my mate Lucy so will write about it then... I love the idea of combining 1910-1960s clothes and accessories with a cafe and an instore hair stylist to recreate the looks – plus they screen old movies. One last good thing about York is Betty's. I know it's trad and touristy, but the coffee and cakes are great and it's so friendly. Plus how can you fail to like somewhere that sells cakes called Fat Rascals? Still the best place for a treat, I reckon.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A bit of lip

No She Didn't opaque blue by Lime Crime, £14

A range of ‘luxe lipsticks’ by Lime Crime arrived at SpaceNK recently. They are called things like Cosmopop, the packaging’s shocking pink, and colours range from lilac to tangerine and ‘luscious creamy black’. So it seems safe to assume it’s aimed at a younger market – or is that just me? The lipsticks look madly teeny and, to be honest, a bit cheap (though they’re not) so the whole thing sits rather oddly in the chic white spaces of SpaceNK, home to the finest and best-performing beauty brands.

Red Sinner by Lipstick Queen, £16.50

So, if bubblegum pink or gothic black doesn't appeal, head instead for one of SpaceNK’s major stars, Lipstick Queen. If you haven't discovered this superlative range of lipsticks yet, you'll find they're up there with MAC in terms of colours and quality. There’s a carefully edited palette of wearable shades, and each colour is available in both a light, sheer version (Saint) and a pigment-heavy matte (Sinner), £16.50 each. From Nude to Wine, the colours pack a fine punch yet are not overpowering. If you have to plump for just one, the sheer Medieval (below) is the most subtle and wearable of reds. Then there's the Oxymoron (so named because it looks glossy but goes on matte). It may sound horrible and come in an annoyingly plasticky case with a tiny brush, but it comes in four nude shades (including Honest Politician) which are versatile, long-lasting and luscious.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Laidback luxe

Came across an attractive new collection in Fenwick's, Newcastle, this weekend: Maison Scotch. With its neat little name-tag label and a laidback luxury feel, it looks like a home-spun label crafted in some Parisian atelier. The clothes are fresh and well-cut, with a breezy nautical vibe for spring. Also in Maison Scotch’s favour, it has to be said, is their spot in Fenwick: next to the lurid overload of magenta and raspberry diamante-studded velour by Juicy Couture, it's hard not to look like pure class. But there are details here that challenge even Whistles, firm favourite in the fashion press for the over-25s. A navy T-shirt dress in good-quality cotton (£80), for example, comes with a thin striped belt, while soft indigo jeans make you think of tripping along the hot sand on some south of France beach. The Paris T-shirt (£45, great cotton, flattering shape) hints at Bella Freud’s cultish slogan tops (such as Ginsberg is God, below, re-issued for a/w 2009), while a long black and cream T-shirt with one pocket comes with a matching long thin scarf so you feel like you’re getting more for your (not inconsiderable amount of) money. In fact, this collection comes from Scotch & Soda, an Amsterdam-based company that already have successful men’s and children’s ranges, and taps smartly into the laidback French chic vibe that’s so popular at the moment.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


Charms seem to be having a moment again. Maybe it’s a hankering for the unique, the treasured, the beautifully made, in reaction to the mainstream ’80s overload. Yves St Laurent has seaside-themed charm bracelets this season (a rather pricey bit of fun at £675), while Bottega Veneta’s bracelets (£410) are detailed with silver rose charms. Cavalli’s take is playful, with dinky gold-plated charms on a leather bracelet (£260). At Marc by Marc Jacobs, even leather sandals are decorated with brightly coloured charms (all at www.net-a-porter.com). And just look at the cute yet cool ‘Alice in Wonderland’ charm necklaces by the hottest jewellery maestro of the moment, Tom Binns (as seen in the April issue of Vogue) (tombinnsdesign.com).

I’ve always had a thing about charm bracelets. All that remains from my childhood one are a few heavy silver charms – including a guitar and, weirdly, a dodo – that I’ve had soldered onto a chunky silver link bracelet. So, Annina Vogel’s (www.anninavogel.co.uk) stunning necklaces using vintage gold charms really stood out on a recent trip to Smock boutique in Dublin (see previous post). They are certainly investment buys – and we mean investment as in the price of a secondhand car – but there’s no harm in looking. You’re talking £1,950 for the beautiful long charm necklace in gold (Kate Moss wears it, often). The unique, timeless quality of it really stands out. Also sold at www.matches.com

Looking at more affordable alternatives, I came across Lisa de Bidaph’s www.vintagecharmnecklaces.co.uk charm jewellery in silver or gold (from £125), and Hannah Zakari (www.hannahzakari.co.uk), whose little silver chair charm necklace is just £24. Giles & Brother (www.brownsfashion.com) do a cute small luck charm necklace (£115) with a horseshoe, heart and anchor in sterling silver. All Saints’ (www.allsaints.com) versions are typically burnished and edgy; prices from £25, with the longer, more detailed necklaces at £55. Topshop (www.topshop.com), naturally, do a fun, cheap take on the trend: their charm bangle pack is 14 quid, while the Cake Teapot Heart necklace is great for a tenner. Or be creative and make your own with charms from www.myvintagecharms.com.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Jean genie

Can I just enthuse about some black trousers? Skinny yet stretchy, these J Brand black trousers in luxe Japanese twill are more luxurious than any kind of jeans I’ve ever tried on. If you're someone who has always played it safe in boot-cut or loose flarey jeans, maybe now's the time to try something a bit sleeker. Because a slick pair of great-fitting slim black trousers looks great with everything from a black jacket to a long casual top or a shift dress, and with Converse through to high heels. These J Brands just feel like the perfect shape for now – long, slim and supremely soft, with hidden zips at the ankles. And as they sit higher on the waist they have the un-fashiony advantage of being fantastically comfortable to wear (rather than cutting in to your hips).

They are pricey (£190). Sure, there are cheaper versions on the high street. But these will look and feel better for far longer. They feel rather Balmain in their luxe slinkiness. And I could ramble on further about ‘cost per wear’ but you get the picture. And they are way sexier than all these tracksuit trousers and harem pants that every high-street store and magazine is plugging at the moment – let’s be honest, these shapes are not designed to flatter anyone. You can buy J Brand direct from the States via their website or from www.shopbop.com for half the price (though be aware of import tax costs on top).

Cheaper alternatives include M&S’s black skinny biker jeans (the longer length is best), which are selling fast online at £39. It’s been a few decades since I’d actively choose to wear M&S trousers so either things are getting better over there, or I'm showing my age...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

At liberty in London


Life’s great pleasures, number two: a few hours wandering around Liberty. It’s a calm, tranquil place to browse, even on a Saturday – a seductive mix of heritage, cutting-edge labels and friendly, helpful staff. I loved this full-length blue and white striped dress in soft cotton jersey (£125) by Acne; it would look just as great with a leather jacket and chunky boots as it would with flip-flops and a panama in the summer. For autumn/winter 2010, shoe maestro Manolo Blahnik is designing his own Liberty prints, with a limited-edition collection of unique shoes and other gifts on display... could be worth heading over for a look come September.

I also tried out one of the Ellis Faas lipsticks I keep reading about (exclusive to Liberty in London). The bullet-shaped case is very swanky and the colours wonderfully intense, but the Ellis Red, which is ‘sure to suit every complexion’ because it’s the colour of real blood, is just a touch too vampiric for me. If you're even slightly pale, it could all get a bit 'Twilight'.

Before anything, though, the day needs to kick off with coffee and croissants at Maison Bertaux, off Old Compton Street in Soho, because it’s so pretty and eccentric and because the croissants are, for me, the best in London. And because there are daffodils on each table.

You might have seen the American Apparel sample sale on the news; apparently there were serious fights in Brick Lane at Easter weekend as more than 2,000 people queued to stock up on cut-price T-shirts and leotards. Blimey. AA’s leggings are great, though, it has to be said. The Tri-Blend Rib Legging (£23) in grey is about as good as a legging gets – soft, strong and plenty long enough. Plus they don’t go all baggy round your knees after a few wears. Despite first appearances (neon sign outside, loud pumping music inside), American Apparel is not a shop purely aimed at teenagers who aspire to a Flashdance look (without irony). The cotton tops, for example, are good quality, wash well (boring, but still good to know) and – crucially – are just the right length, whether you’re a size 8 or a 16. All we’re saying is, M&S could pick up a few hints here. There’s a reason why people are scrapping over vests on a holiday weekend, and it’s not just because the stuff’s cheap.